THE NOTE: Rudy and Mitt's Nasty Fight

Obama, D-Ill., will be featured on ABC's "Nightline" on Monday, and he engages in some expectations-setting with Terry Moran. "Certainly [I] would suggest that the overwhelming favorite who has been touted as inevitable over the last 6 months better win Iowa. Don't you think?" Obama says with a laugh. "All I know is you guys have been measuring the curtains for a while. . . . You telling me she can get away with not winning Iowa?" (More laughter.)

And Obama gets sharper than he's been in the past in his interview with Moran: "I think the fact of the matter is that Senator Clinton is claiming basically the entire eight years of the Clinton presidency as her own, except for the stuff that didn't work out, in which case she says she has nothing to do with it," Obama said. "What she can't be is selective, in terms of, you know, cherry-picking and making determinations that she's now suddenly the face of foreign policy, that she shaped economic policy, except the stuff that didn't work out, in which case that was somebody else's problem or somebody else's fault."

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's spat with Obama took a new turn last week, with direct engagement now the norm instead of the exception. And this is Clinton, D-N.Y., trying to bring the battle back to her terms: Clinton told the AP's Mike Glover that Obama's healthcare proposal was "crafted for politics." (Wait -- isn't that Obama's critique of Clinton? Don't forget that Mark Penn and Howard Wolfson know what they're doing.)

Obama's response fits his campaign frame: "Hillary's idea is that we should force everyone to buy insurance. But this is yet another issue where she is not being straight with the American people because she refuses to tell us how much she would fine people if they couldn't afford insurance."

Picking this fight -- just weeks after Clinton eschewed "mudslinging" -- shows that "her status as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination [is] in jeopardy," Anne Kornblut writes in The Washington Post. "Strategists for Obama said over the weekend that they see an opening for their candidate on the question of electability, and campaign manager David Plouffe also predicted a 'relentlessly negative' barrage from the Clinton campaign in the days ahead."

"Central to the new Clinton push will be the argument that only she can beat the eventual Republican nominee, a claim Obama is also seeking to make to voters here," Kornblut writes. "Advisers said her message will be: 'You can't have change if you don't win.' Her rivals, meanwhile, are moving aggressively to capitalize on Clinton's weaknesses in Iowa -- and, they hope, block her path to the nomination.

Writes The Boston Globe's Sasha Issenberg, "as the two candidates moved among Iowa's small towns this weekend, the race's psychological dynamics appear to have been disrupted by the new snapshot of Obama atop the field, especially as Clinton reaffirms that strength and electability are central to her appeal."

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